Ski racing season starts this month
Culminates with PyeongChang Winter Games in February
World Cup circuit will host around 80 races on three continents
The alpine ski racing season kicks off in the Austrian Alps at the end of this month.
Here are five reasons why you shouldn’t miss a thing.
It’s an Olympic year!
Ski racing will play an important part at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games, which will be held from February 9 to 25, with the blue riband downhill events taking center stage.
There will be a new women’s champion after joint 2014 Sochi Olympic champions – Slovenia’s Tina Maze and Switzerland’s Dominic Gissin – retired.
A star was born in Sochi when Austrian Matthias Mayer, then aged just 23, triumphed despite having never won a downhill race before.
But it remains to be seen how he will fare on the Olympic course in Jeongseon, which is full of big curves and long rolls, particularly after breaking two vertebrae in a serious crash in 2015.
Vonn chases World Cup record & Olympic gold
Who will be the stars of the slopes?
All eyes will be on the sport’s most famous racer as she chases Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time mark of 86 World Cup victories. Lindsey Vonn, the most successful female ski racer of all time, is currently nine wins shy of the record so expect her to go full throttle at every race.
The American has had her fair share of injuries and was forced to sit out the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. One of the big stars of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where she won the downhill, the 32-year-old has said the 2018 Olympic course suits her aggressive skiing style.
Although Italy’s Sofia Goggia beat Vonn twice in two days on that course in March, the American was on the comeback trail after breaking her arm in a crash in November.
If she is healthy come February, expect fireworks at the Olympics because this will likely be the last Games for Vonn, who turns 33 on October 18.
READ: Lindsey Vonn on “hardest recovery of career”
READ: Why Lindsey Vonn wants to race the men
Scenic and spectacular
Apart from the Tour de France, there isn’t a more scenic sport to follow than the alpine ski racing tour, which kicks off on October 28-29 with the men’s and women’s giant slaloms on the majestic 3,000-meter high Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria.
The World Cup circuit will be hosting about 80 races on three different continents, crossing from the European Alps to the North American Rockies before finishing with the finals in Are, Sweden, in March. And look out for a city event in the middle of Oslo on New Year’s Day.
Racers will be throwing themselves down the mountain at speeds of up to 80 miles-per-hour, and no event is more breathtaking than the classic Hahnenkamm race on the feared Streif course in Kitzbuhel, Austria, in January, which features an 85% gradient at the start and jumps as long as 60 meters.
READ: Why racing the Streif demands guts for glory
Slalom queen Shiffrin goes for four medals
Young American slalom specialist Mikaela Shiffrin is eying no less than four possible medals in PyeongChang. Having dominated the World Cup slalom circuit in the years since she took the Sochi Games by storm as a teenager, Shiffrin will be trying to become the first man or woman to successfully defend an Olympic slalom title.
Last season, Shiffrin clinched the most coveted annual prize in ski racing when she won her first overall title on the World Cup circuit at the age of 22 to add to her slalom crystal globe.
A silver medal in the giant slalom at the world championships in February, and a first World Cup win in the combined event last season, also bode well for PyeongChang. Although she has never won a speed race, the American will be aiming to compete in the Super-G in South Korea.
A fast learner and at her best under pressure, don’t be surprised to see Shiffrin light up the Winter Games once more.
Skiing could have its own “Battle of the Sexes”
Tennis had its “Battle of the Sexes” in 1973, when Billie Jean King easily beat Bobby Riggs in a tennis match watched by some 90 million viewers all over the world, helping put the women’s tennis tour on the map.
After Vonn’s request to race the men was turned down by skiing’s governing body FIS in 2012, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association put another proposal forward to the executive board of the FIS earlier this month.
Although the proposal won’t be heard until May, Patrick Riml, alpine director of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), told the Associated Press that there was “support” for Vonn’s plans among FIS board members.
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In an interview with CNN in June, Vonn said she regularly beats her male teammates and wanted to stage the race to help keep the sport in the limelight in between the Olympics.